Okay, so, Mitsie is no longer our “new” cat. We’ve actually had her for three years this month, yet it’s taken me this long to finally get around to writing about her… I think this is a good thing, because I’ve learnt a lot about Mitsie (and life) in those three years. Here are some of the things I’ve learnt:
1) Be careful what you wish for
After our old cat, Moggy, died it took us a while to grieve and get to a place where we, as a family, were ready for a new pet. Pretty much all of us had an unspoken desire for a cat who was as friendly, affectionate and loving as our big old softy Moggy was. Though as a writer, I secretly hoped that this new cat wouldn’t do too much of the things that all writers’ cats do – frequently interrupt typing by wanting to be petted, trying to sit on your lap or laptop and hence deleting one’s precious, epic manuscript. I got my wish. Mitsie doesn’t sit on laps or generally want to interfere with my writing. She is so not bothered by my literary endeavours. Humph.
2) Manage your expectations
As I said previously, we all wanted a super-friendly cat. Mitsie is not that cat. We got her from a cat foster home, and the woman looking after her intimated that she came from a rather uncaring home. Our hearts went out to her and I think we all had visions of our bountiful love “undoing” all the previous neglect, and her frisking about with catty gratitude for her new, wonderful owners. These expectations were a bit too high. Mitsie is very loved and cared for now, and she does show her attachment to us in all manner of sweet (though rather shy) ways, but she is simply not an overtly get-in-your-face or body space kind of cat. That’s something that both children, in particular, have had to realize and accept.
3) You can’t teach an old dog new tricks
Or, indeed, a young cat new tricks. We tried and tried to teach her how to use the cat flaps (and went through a lot of ham in the process) but Miss Mitsie would not deign to use the aforementioned cat flaps. So, we prop them open for her instead. (It’s a solution…)
4) There’s always a ‘third way’
Well, nearly always. Mitsie loves eating cat biscuits, but they make her thirsty. Does she drink from the water bowl next to her food? Of course not! Instead, she prefers to drink from the water mugs beside our bed. Ew… We started covering our mugs with coasters, or hiding them away from her, but somehow, she always got her face into them. So, voila! we found a (sort of) elegant solution by going with her urge and getting her her very own bedside table water mug.
5) Cat can be introverts too
Even before social distancing was a thing, Mitsie was practising this. She likes being near us, but never too near us. She is happiest being approximately one arm’s length away, i.e. just out of stroking distance. And don’t even think of trying to break this imposed distancing – even the tiniest tickle on her forehead could end up with you being bitten.
6) Body language speaks volumes
After being out all night chasing mice, Mitsie is ready for breakfast. In fact, she’s so ready for breakfast that she’ll purr and rub round your legs (which I think she views as cat food dispensers). After first breakfast, being partially sated, this food-based friendliness gets dialled down and then she’ll hang around the kitchen, giving your feet a swipe if ever you pass the fridge without getting the cat food out. It doesn’t take a genius to work out what she wants. Second breakfast over and done with she will saunter off, completely ignoring you, and make her way to my daughter’s upper bunk bed (which, in Mitsie’s mind, is her bed). After a good wash she settles down to sleep, and if you even call her name or go near her, her tail will start thumping. (Her way of saying ‘talk to the paw’!) Get even closer and she may treat you to one of her out-of-the-blue scratch attacks.
She may not be able to speak with words, but Mitsie sure does know how to communicate her wishes.
7) Beware generalisations
Generalisations – about people, life, or cats – can be useful. But they don’t always apply to every circumstance or individual. When my son found a website about tuxedo cats and read that they are highly intelligent and super friendly, he shook his head sagely and said that they hadn’t met Mitsie. But we can all agree that she is the best dressed cat in the neighbourhood.
8) Mitsie as Muse
Mitsie is one of the family, and as such, she has inspired countless illustrations, songs, jokes, stories and plays. I’m not sure she particularly relishes this role – particularly if it means being fussed over – but sometimes I catch a little smile on her face and think she knows, and approves.
9) Meet others where they are
Throughout life, we all encounter any number of individuals at different times in their life. If they’re in a good place – a secure, happy place – it can be easier to relate to them and to connect with them. If they’re struggling, with internal or external issues, we may struggle to bond with them; we may not have the tools, or the energy or time, or the inclination to forge a relationship with them.
We first met Mitsie at a time in her life when she’d been given up by her old owners and was sad and bewildered. We gave her a home and a lot of love, and she has flourished and grown confident, and in her own sweet (and rather cross) way she is well on the path to individuation. (As Jung would have it.) It’s important to meet her where she is now – which is a much more happy and friendly place – but to not rush her into a future of our making; imagining her to be all super affectionate and the kind of cat who actively seeks out your lap. That may never happen. And it would be to futile to ask this of a cat who simply doesn’t have the life background (or personality) to do this. Which leads me nicely on to…
10) Love being its own reward
Because of the fact that Mitsie isn’t a highly affectionate cat, her rare (but becoming more frequent) instances of love and affection are incredibly precious to us. Indeed, sometimes I feel that life is at its most perfect when, taking a break from it all, I squirrel myself away with my laptop to write, to be joined by Mitsie. The fact that she has sought me out makes me feel very special, and when she settles down beside me, purring – yes, actually purring! – I feel as though I am the most blessed person on Earth.
I once asked my young son if he wished that instead of Mitsie we had a cat who liked being stroked and picked up, but with great wisdom he said no. He added that other people, finding out how shy and cross she could be, may not have wanted to keep her. And then she’d again be alone in the world. After all, he concluded, we gave her a loving home, and that is one of the best gifts you can give.